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There is nothing better than getting close to nature in your backyard, whether you’re watching deer browsing in your garden or putting food out to attract wild birds. But is it possible to combine a deer-friendly garden with a haven for your feathered friends, or do deer eat bird seed? Let’s find out!

Do Deer Eat Bird Seed?

Deer will most certainly eat bird seed in your bird feeders!
Deer will most certainly eat bird seed in your bird feeders!

It is no secret that deer have voracious appetites and will devour an impressive range of foodstuffs. If you put bird seed out to encourage avian visitors to your yard, it is highly likely that deer will also come along and eat it.

Deer like to eat many different types of seeds. They are a valuable source of energy, particularly during the colder winter months when other food is scarce. So, if you set up a feeding station for birds, any visiting deer will also eat the bird seed.

Is It Safe for Deer to Eat Bird Seed?

Solitary white-tailed deer peeking up from behind a snow mound, while eating at a bird feeder, on a sunny winter day
Solitary White Tail Deer snacking on bird seed at a bird feeder

Whilst we love deer and wouldn’t begrudge them a tasty snack, there are some downsides to deer eating bird seed.

Deer are powerful creatures and may knock down and damage your carefully constructed bird feeding station in an attempt to access the food. This can be incredibly frustrating and a stark reminder that deer are wild animals, not friendly pets!

Another problem is that bird seed is not always the healthiest food for deer, and it can be very harmful to their health in large quantities. There are even reports of deer dying after ingesting large quantities of bird seed.

In some regions, it is illegal to feed wild deer, and this includes feeding bird seed on the ground that may attract deer. Feeding deer is thought to hasten the spread of infectious diseases through deer populations, as food sources will lead to unnatural congregations of wild deer in one area.

Will Deer Eat Hot Pepper Bird Seed?

Keeping deer and other animals such as squirrels away from bird seed is an ongoing problem, and many retailers now sell bird seed coated with hot pepper such as super spicy cayenne chili.

Deer are much more sensitive to spicy flavors than birds, and they are unlikely to eat hot pepper bird seed. This might seem like a great way to protect your bird feeders from deer, but some experts warn against feeding hot pepper seeds to wild birds.

Opinion seems to be divided on whether hot pepper seed is bad for birds, mainly because there is no clear evidence to support it either way. The general consensus seems to be that it is preferable to use other methods to dissuade deer and squirrels from eating bird seed and opt for hot pepper bird seed only as a last resort.

How Do You Feed Birds Without Attracting Deer?

Once deer discover an easy food source such as bird seed, they will come back time and time again for more. Many of us gain a huge amount of satisfaction from feeding birds in our yards and gardens, but can we do this without attracting deer?

The key to success is to take every step possible to prevent deer from finding the bird seed in the first place. Here are some tips.

  1. Never feed bird seed directly on the ground – not only will this attract deer, but will also put your avian visitors at risk of predators such as cats.
  2. Only put out a small amount of birdseed each day, rather than a large quantity every week or so.
  3. It is better to put feed out in the morning rather than the evening.
  4. Make sure to sweep up excess or spilled seed from the ground.

How Do You Keep Deer From Eating Bird Food?

Whitetail next to bird feeder with bird seed

The best way to keep deer from eating bird food is to position bird feeders in a location that is difficult to access. Deer are remarkably agile and ingenious, so this may require some creative thinking on your part!

If you have a vegetable plot that is securely fenced to keep deer out, this is a good place to position your bird feeders. More birds in your vegetable plot is never bad; they will also eat many pests that like to feast on your produce too!

But what if you don’t have a fenced-off part of your yard? A small fence, around 4 feet high, can be erected around the area where the bird feeders are positioned. This is not tall enough to prevent deer from jumping over but it will be sufficient to stop them from leaning over in search of a tasty snack.

Alternatively, switch to bird feeders that are difficult for deer to access – suet cages, or tube or hopper feeders. However, hungry deer will knock bird feeders to the ground in an attempt to access the seed inside, so make sure they are securely attached to your bird feeding station.

How High Can Deer Reach for Food?

A great way to prevent deer from eating bird seed is to position bird feeders at a height they cannot reach. They will need to be at least 6 feet from the ground, so you may need to get inventive with some kind of pulley system to lower the feeders for refilling.

If you are setting up a new bird feeding station, position it as close to your house or outbuildings as possible. Wild birds will soon get used to human activity around their food source, whereas the proximity to buildings will deter deer.

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